Office Politics

For the first time in my career, I work in a large, open plan office. I say open plan, it’s actually quite well divided up. 2m walls break the room up into cubicles of 6, and there are 7 such cubicles within the room. There is a whole nother room below this one, so potentially that’s 84 worthless peons minions undervalued temporary researchers jammed in accommodated.

I think it’s fucking awful.

My colleague says it’s not so bad. He used to work for a large British engineering firm (with a penchant for reinventing air-moving household appliances) and previously occupied an open office of 700 people. He tells me that he and his colleagues used to challenge each other to create the largest disturbance in the office environment, without actually invoking any reaction from the office dwellers. Like Office Buckaroo.

Personally, I think they’re playing Buckaroo with my sanity.

For my sins:

DESIGN: The whole building is very poorly designed, and the office is no exception. The temperature of the office is unpredictable most of the time, and just plain wrong at the most important times. Air conditioning (hah!) comes in the form of an underfloor ventilation system, meaning that our floorboards are not entirely fixed in position. The floor rattles and echoes when you walk around.

SECURITY: Although the doors to the office require an access card, I don’t actually know which faces belong in here and which don’t. Anyone could wander through at any time, and nobody would care less. Doors are frequently jammed open when someone forgets their ID.

CUBICLE HIERARCHY In each cubicle, 4 of the occupants sit with their backs to each other. The final two (are they considered more worthy than the rest of us?) watch us like overlords. They have the privilege of not having their screens open to criticism.

CUBICLE OCCUPATION: Some cubicles are FULL. Others are empty. Why?!

STORAGE: Storage within the cubicles is fair. Extra storage exists outside of the cubicles, however it was all filled up 10 years ago and there’s no written or unwritten policy for determining who gets to take the extra storage.

RESEARCH HIERARCHY: Ph.D students are mixed in with post-docs, reinforcing the notion that post-docs aren’t valued any more than students. It also creates tension because you have no way of non-verbally determining who is below (or above) you in the research hierarchy.

COLLABORATION: Supposedly, researchers in the same working group are situated close to each other, however this does not mean that cubicles are filled with workers from the same group. It just means that most of us are on the same floor. At any one time, I could turn around and see just one guy from my working group. Finding the rest would require reconnaissance.

COMMUNICATION: Chatter, research related or otherwise, disturbs EVERYONE. Though this doesn’t seem to bother some people

IDENTITY CRISIS: Despite the walls being made of noticeboard type material, it doesn’t seem to be standard practise to personalise one’s walls in any way. Nor is it standard practise to label your workspace as your own, thus making it difficult to actually FIND colleagues if you do not already know where they sit.

EMOTIONAL CRISIS: If you have no reason to get up, you can spend all day looking at a screen or a grey wall. Much like the London Underground, you are not encouraged to look at or interact with actual people.

SOMEBODY ELSE’S PROBLEM: The sheer number of people in here means that everyone takes an SEP attitude to group problems. Printer out of paper? SEP. Printer out of toner? SEP. Someone knocking on the door, having forgotten their ID? SEP. It wouldn’t be so bad if I engaged in the SEP attitude; but because I don’t, I seem to BE that SE whose P it is.

MONKEYSPHERE: Human behaviour determines that some of the people in the office actually register as people. Everyone else is just a floor-rattler. Despite this, I’m still able to identify some of the people as individuals – within the office environment – by their distinctive characteristics:

Does he ever leave guy?

Always making personal calls guy.

Boot dragger.

Nose-blow avoider.

Self-Important guy, aka Speaks loudly and often as if he knows what he’s doing, but probably doesn’t guy.

I don’t trust her face girl.

Walks too fast.

Walks too slow.

Printer Jinxer.

Refuses to sit on chair guy.

Wally – as in, Where’s. Does he have 2 desks?

Would be less depressing in here, if he were in the office more often guy, aka Steve.


About nicolajrolfe

Dr. Nicola J. Rolfe is currently looking for her next opportunity to make a big splash in East Kent industry.
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